Here’s Why Vaccines Are so Crucial

Here’s Why Vaccines Are so Crucial

If children in poor countries got the shots that rich countries take for granted, hundreds of thousands of young lives could be saved.


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Biology, Health

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Samir Saha is a scientist. He studies bacteria. I visited him in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Saha sent me to see a sick child. He wanted to show me why vaccines are important.

Saha studies a bacterium called pneumococcus. Bacteria are very small organisms. You can only see them with a microscope.

Pneumococcal bacteria are found everywhere. They can live in healthy people's throats. Our immune system usually fights them off. The immune system helps to protect us from getting sick.

Sometimes our immune systems fail. When this happens, pneumococcus can cause serious diseases. It can cause pneumonia. This is an infection in the lungs. The bacteria can also cause meningitis. This is an infection in the brain.

Not All Countries Can Afford Vaccines

Young children are more likely to get sick from pneumococcus. Young children in poorer countries are the most likely of all. In the early 2000s, pneumococcus caused more than 800,000 deaths every year. Most deaths happened in poorer countries, such as Bangladesh.

There is a vaccine that protects children from pneumococcus. It is called pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). It reached Bangladesh in 2015. Saha and other scientists are tracking its progress.

Bangladesh has different problems with vaccines than the United States. In the United States, the biggest problem is getting some parents to vaccinate their children. Some people believe vaccines have more risks than benefits. In Bangladesh, people need vaccines but cannot get them. The vaccines are too expensive. As a result, vaccine-preventable diseases still cause a lot of suffering.

This is why Saha sent me to Sanjida Sahajahan.

Sanjida Had All Of Her Shots But One

Sanjida is 11 years old. When she was three, she got meningitis. She became very sick and did not have proper medicine. Now, Sanjida has no control over her head or face. She cannot talk.

Every country has a vaccine plan. It outlines the vaccines that children should get at certain ages. Sanjida received every vaccine in Bangladesh's plan. But when she was a baby, Bangladesh did not have PCVs. Bangladesh desperately needed the vaccine but could not afford it.

Vaccines are made by drug companies. They are often in the United States and Europe. These companies charge a lot of money for vaccines.

It takes many years to make a vaccine. For example, it took decades to make the PCV. One reason for this is that there are many types of pneumococcal cells. Different types make people sick in different countries.

A Group Worked To Make Vaccines Cheaper

The first PCV worked against types that make people sick in the United States It did not fight off types that make people sick in Africa and South Asia. It also cost $232. Poorer countries could not pay for it.

Many people thought this was unfair. They started the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or Gavi. Gavi reduces the cost of vaccines for poorer countries.

Gavi has also made deals with vaccine companies. As a result, a new vaccine has been developed. It works in poorer countries.

This is helping people in Bangladesh. Fewer people get sick from pneumococcus. Saha said he hopes that one day, the vaccines will wipe out pneumococcal disease completely.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Cynthia Gorney
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

June 26, 2024

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